College Graduation Gift Etiquette

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Graduating college is an achievement worth celebrating, as it marks, in many cases, the conclusion of the graduate’s education and the start of their career. Like other meaningful occasions, graduation can be celebrated with a gift. But figuring out who you should give a graduation gift to and what you should give can be a bit more complicated. Let this College Graduation Gift Etiquette guide help you determine the do’s and don’ts when it comes to gift giving. After reading this, you’ll know just what to do once a graduation announcement or party invitation arrives in your mailbox or inbox.

Graduation Gifts: The Basics

Like other milestone occasions, college graduation can certainly call for a celebratory gift—but it doesn’t have to. Determining whether it’s appropriate or even necessary to give a gift is your first step in navigating college graduation gift etiquette. Consider these factors to determine whether you should celebrate the new grad with a gift.

Your Relationship With the Grad

The better you know the graduate, the more inclined you’ll be to give a gift. Consider your relationship with the grad before you start shopping. If the graduate is a close family member like a niece or nephew, for example, you’ll probably want to celebrate the milestone with a gift. If this person is someone who you celebrate with gifts for other occasions like birthdays and winter holidays, then you probably have a close enough relationship that it warrants a graduation gift, too.

However, extended family members or friends don’t necessarily require a graduation gift, nor would they expect one. Again, let your relationship be your guide in these situations. Your long-term babysitter graduating college might be an important figure in your family, and you’ll want to give a gift. Your neighbor who you say hello to on occasion doesn’t necessarily need a gift, and a congratulatory message next time you see them will be sufficient.

Graduation Announcement

Proud parents of the graduate or the grad themselves might send out digital or hard copy graduation announcements to celebrate their achievement. These announcements are typically sent to important contacts of the graduate, including family and close friends. Keep in mind that these announcements aren’t a gift grab. They’re simply a formal way of sharing the accomplishment. As a result, you don’t need to feel obligated to buy a gift to respond to an announcement. A phone call, text message, or email sending your well wishes is the appropriate response.

Graduation Party Invitation 

If you’re invited to a graduation party, you will want to bring a gift if it fits into your budget. This event is typically a gift-giving occasion, allowing you to celebrate the guest of honor with a special gift. Fortunately, there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules about how much to spend, so you can shop with your budget in mind and ensure you appropriately celebrate the grad at a price that works for you. If a situation arises where you can’t purchase a gift, a thoughtfully written note allows you to send your congratulations and ensures that you don’t show up empty handed.

Graduation Ceremony

If you’re attending the graduation ceremony, then you’re probably close with the graduate. After all, tickets to the event are typically limited to just a few per student, so if you made the cut, then you’re clearly a meaningful person in their life.

Showing up to the ceremony with a gift in hand is not necessary, but you do have some options when it comes to celebrating at the event itself. You can bring a bouquet of flowers to give the grad after the walk across the stage and receive their diploma. Consider coordinating with the other guests to ensure the grad doesn’t go home with more flowers than they know what to do with. A group bouquet, for instance, might be best.

You can also tuck a handwritten note or card into an envelope to give to the graduate after the ceremony. Avoid bringing any large or cumbersome gifts, as you don’t want to saddle your recipient with them during the event. Those gifts are better left for a later time, whether you get together with the grad a few weeks later to celebrate or plan on attending a formal graduation party.

Graduation Gift Timing

If you’re attending a graduation party, that’s the best time to give a gift. However, that’s not always feasible. The grad might not have a formal party, or you might live out of town and not be able to attend.

Try to give your gift in the weeks around graduation. Once you’ve received a graduation announcement or party invitation (or seen a celebratory announcement on social media), consider the gift-giving season open. If you won’t see the graduate in person, you can send your gift in the mail. Keep shipping times in mind when ordering. You might opt to mail your gift a week or two before the graduation so it arrives around graduation day. However, sending it after the graduation ceremony is appropriate as well, so timing can be flexible depending on when you’ll see the graduate and how you’re delivering the gift.

How Much to Spend

You have plenty of flexibility as you budget for a graduation gift. Since these gifts aren’t expected, your recipient certainly won’t expect a gift of a certain cost. Instead, you should consider your budget and your relationship with the recipient as you determine how much you spend. You can keep gifts under $50 for grads that you aren’t close with. For close family members or friends, you might choose to spend more than $50. However, relationship with the grad should be the secondary factor when determining what you buy. Let your budget be your guide as you shop for a graduation gift. Whatever you spend, your thoughtful gesture will be appreciated.

Graduation Gift Ideas

Now, you know the basics of college graduation gift etiquette. Next, it’s time to decide what type of gift you should give. Shop with the graduate in mind so that you choose a gift that’s inspired by their interests and the next step in their lives. Consider these ideas as you shop for college graduation gifts.

Cash Gift

Cash is a common gift for a new grad. In this case, cash isn’t impersonal—it’s practical. The college graduate is starting life on their own, beginning their career and perhaps moving into their own place. That shift in lifestyle brings plenty of costs with it, which can make your cash gift truly appreciated. 

If you aren’t comfortable giving cash but don’t know the graduate well enough to offer a personalized gift, consider a gift card. Choose a gift card to a practical spot that the recipient will love. You can give a gift card to a nice restaurant where they can enjoy a celebratory meal. If they’re moving into a new place, consider a gift card to a home improvement or decor store, which will help them stock their new spot with items they need.

Work-Related Gifts

A college graduate who has secured a new job will require items as they begin their career. Consider giving them a gift that they can use as they begin their career. A messenger bag, laptop bag, or portfolio can be a thoughtful gift. Consider adding the recipient’s monogram to your gift for a truly personalized touch.

Home Gifts

For college grads moving off campus and into a new place, home gifts are a good choice. These gifts may include a new coffee maker, a set of ultra-soft sheets, or a framed print of their college campus. Or, create a gift basket filled with items that can stock their pantry or home bar. 

Travel Gifts

Perhaps the graduate has accepted a job that requires regular travel, or they’re taking the summer off and traveling before starting their career. For these grads, a monogrammed passport holder or new travel bag can be an ideal gift for the upcoming adventure.

Sentimental Gifts

If you’re close with the graduate, consider a sentimental gift that marks the end of their academic career. Create a photo book with favorite pictures from their college years. Offer to have their diploma framed so they can display it in their home or office. If you send a gift after graduation, frame a graduation picture or program so that they can reflect on it for years to come.

Conclusion

Next time a graduation announcement or invitation lands in your inbox, you won’t have any fear. Thanks to this helpful guide, you’re now an expert in college graduation gift etiquette and know when to bring a gift and what to buy. So, celebrate the college grads in your life in a way that honors their achievement, adheres to proper etiquette, and sticks to your budget.